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Reduced Shakespeare Company - All the Great Books

2nd to 3rd February 2004.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Approaching shelf-life?

All the Great Books (abridged), at The Corn Exchange, on Monday, February 2 and Tuesday, February 3

Having tackled The Bible, The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The History of America, The Reduced Shakespeare Company turned their attention to All the Great Books albeit abridged. The formula is the same as their past shows and is perhaps wearing a little thin, but rather like a good old book it was somewhat comforting to be in familiar territory.

The talented company of Tim Beckham, Matt Blair and Graham Vick, play a myriad of characters as they shamelessly smash through 90 of the most critically-acclaimed classics from American and English literature in as many minutes.

They described Dickens as “America’s greatest author, since his books were filled with exaggerated characterisations, action packed plots and cliff hanger endings”. The company wrapped them all up into a single soap opera entitled Great Expectorations, with hilarious consequences.

The coach explained the characters in Little Women as if they were players in an American football team complete with diagrams. A very clever piece of physical wordplay.

Don Quixote was performed in Spanish with an English translation, much to the amusement of both cast and audience.

Much time was spent on two books that were described as the basis for all of Western literature, The Iliad and The Odyssey, which were combined into a single volume they called The Idioddity and it certainly was. There were brief appearances of Superman, Patroclause (an ancient Father Christmas) Poseidon, complete with a child’s water ring and snorkelling gear, a Cyclops with puppets, a six-headed Cilla Black monster and the best pantomime horse routine I have seen for ages. This was slapstick comedy at its most outrageous.

The internal monologue of Ulysses that slowly turned into a dirty phone call was a gem. Finally we had the whole of War and Peace, performed at a breathtaking pace with the audience participating with relish.

The one-liners may have been corny and the script not as crisp as in previous shows but the performance was enthusiastically received by a capacity Corn Exchange audience and the cast deserved their rapturous applause.